“No one is saying this but you,” the NYC chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, which has not endorsed in the race, tweeted Sunday. “We don’t need more cops arresting street vendors.”
The fight over street vendors in New York City encompasses multiple hot debates — from aggressive policing of women selling churros in subways, to the onerous fees lunch cart operators, often immigrants, pay to permit holders. Food trucks and carts are primary sources of income for many immigrants, and granting more permits to halal carts, hot dog stands and churros vendors has long been a fraught political battle — more so now as brick-and-mortar restaurants struggle to come back from the pandemic.
City Comptroller Scott Stringer, whose mayoral campaign so far has been lagging in the polls, headed to Queens Monday with leading Latina supporters to denounce Yang’s support for more enforcement.
“He wants to start a crackdown on vendors and send enforcement after the immigrant communities that powered us through the pandemic,” Stringer, a career politician running as a progressive, said at Corona Plaza, a popular spot in Queens for Latin American food vendors.
“How can you claim to love New York City and want to throw hardworking New Yorkers who make a living in jail? What is that about? Maybe he just wants to take their carts away, send them home with $10,000 fines they can never pay off,” he said. “This is a criminalization of poverty.”
He was joined by state Sen. Jessica Ramos and Assemblymember Catalina Cruz, two politicians popular with progressives who have endorsed his campaign.
Ramos (D-Queens) said she was “hurt” and “offended” by Yang’s comments. “You can’t be mayor of the city of New York if you don’t know how the city of New York works,” she said. “It is not that [vendors] do not want a permit, it is that they can’t obtain a permit because there is a BS cap on the limited number of vending permits that are given out.”
Yang said Monday he regretted the tweet and his intent was not to antagonize street vendors.
“I love street vendors as many New Yorkers do. And I’m supportive of the measures to try and increase the number of licenses,” he said when asked to respond to the criticism at an unrelated campaign event. “I think we’re all actually aligned on the policy side. And I regret that I took on such a frankly complicated and nuanced issue on that medium. It wasn’t the right medium for it.”
The street vendor flap followed an onslaught of criticism Friday and Saturday, when a clip from a February 2020 interview surfaced on Twitter showing the former presidential candidate saying, Democrats shouldn’t be “celebrating an abortion at any point in the pregnancy.”
The clip did not include the question Yang was responding to, which was how he would win more political support for reproductive rights.
Much of the heat against Yang has come from rival campaigns. But POLITICO reported Monday that Gabe Tobias, head of the progressive political action committee, Our City, wants to “make sure that no voters go in voting for a conservative, nonprogressive candidate and that’s definitely Andrew Yang.”
Yang and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams have come in first and second respectively in early polls. Both are running on a platform that appeals to more moderate Democrats.
In Adams’ case, the former NYPD captain is emphasizing the importance of public safety and has rejected calls to defund the police. Yang has appealed to the private sector, specifically small businesses, and cautioned against raising taxes further on the city’s highest earners.
“We are more concerned about progressives voting for Andrew Yang than we are about them voting for Eric Adams,” Tobias said.
The street vendor issue is made more complex by brick-and-mortar restaurants and retailers devastated by the pandemic as city tourism dried up.
“The political commentators can dissect the Twitter debate but the fact is the vending system is broken and it comes at the expense of vendors, brick-and-mortar businesses and the public,” said Andrew Rigie, head of the NYC Hospitality Alliance which lobbies for restaurants. “The city recently passed a law increasing the number of vendor permits and creating a dedicated enforcement and support office, but we cannot debate the fact that the public deserves to expect safe food no matter where it is sold or by whom.”
The City Council voted in January for a sweeping overhaul to add 4,000 new street vendor permits over more than a decade. Many street vendors have long operated illegally or used expensive black market permits because they can’t get permits directly from the city, which has capped them at 5,100 since the 1980s.
Yang on Monday emphasized his support for that measure and pointed to his endorsement by City Council Member Margaret Chin, who sponsored the street vendor expansion.
“The goal should be to try to increase the number of licenses and support these vendors and bring them more into the formal economy,” Yang said. Still, he said the city should be more responsive to individual business owners’ complaints about unlicensed vendors.
“If the owner of a small business thinks that an unlicensed street vendor is somehow a nuisance to customers in some way, then that should be something that they can actually seek the city’s help with without doing anything untoward towards the street vendor, who could in many cases simply move like 500 feet, or in one direction or another,” he said.
Janaki Chadha and Sally Goldenberg contributed to this report.